Innovative Practice - School scholars

29th June 2012 at 01:00
Giving part of the training budget directly to staff to fund research projects and stimulate ideas

The background

Park View School in County Durham has a reputation for developing novel approaches to the curriculum. The school has worked for several years with a team led by David Leat, professor of curriculum innovation at Newcastle University, and has gained a heap of accolades, including being a Leading Edge school and, before that, a High Performing Specialist School.

For the past five years it has used ideas from the Building Learning Power approach developed by Guy Claxton and has been strengthening its own enquiry-led approach to classroom teaching which it calls "Park View Learning".

Iain Veitch, headteacher, wanted to take the school's work even further and last year began developing a three-year improvement plan. "I wanted to give staff greater ownership of the learning agenda," he says.

The project

Veitch says that he had heard from friends in business that giving professionals a research and development bursary was a good way to unlock their creativity and develop new approaches.

"However, I had been advised that this was problematic in a maintained school," he explains. "I could award an honorarium, a temporary TLR (teaching and learning responsibility), or pay towards an MEd, but there seemed little scope to recognise free-standing projects."

But when Park View switched to academy status last August, those restrictions no longer applied. Its governors approved its plan to use #163;10,000 from its training budget to fund teachers and other staff who wanted to carry out their own research projects.

Staff had to fill in applications outlining the aims of their research, their action plan and how they would evaluate it. They were then interviewed by a panel including Veitch, governors, and Kirsty Tate, the school's assistant head with responsibility for continuing professional development.

Nine bursaries were awarded and staff were given a year to carry out their research before presenting their findings this month.

Tips from the scheme

- Giving part of the school's training budget directly to staff can unlock their potential.

- Make sure that, if you are awarding bursaries, you check what applicants' plans are and how they intend to evaluate if a project is a success.

Evidence that it works?

The nine projects presented by staff at Park View this month have delighted the school's head and governors. The topics for research varied widely, from developing a strategy to help students apply to Russell Group universities, to challenging girls' aspirations through science, to "Using the Principles of Silence, Stillness and Tai Chi within Park View Learning". Staff report that the pilot of the Tai Chi project has already helped a group of Year 8 boys who had difficulty with self-discipline.

The research projects are also prompting the school to rewrite its key stage 4 maths schemes of work and review its Year 7 and 8 humanities curriculum to encourage "non-stupid optimism".

Dr Bill Dennison, chair of governors, says that the bursaries are "The best #163;9,000 we have ever spent, such was the quality of the work undertaken".

THE PROJECT

Approach: Giving teachers research bursaries

Started: 2011

Leaders: Iain Veitch, headteacher, and Kirsty Tate, assistant head with responsibility for continuing professional development

THE SCHOOL

Name: Park View School

Location: County Durham

Pupils: Around 1,500 Intake The school is in a relatively affluent area of County Durham, although there are pockets of deprivation within its catchment area.

Ofsted overall rating: Good (2011).

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